§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)
In view of the statement about dissolution, Mr. Speaker, I should like to announce revised business for today and tomorrow.
Today, the House will be invited to deal with an Appropriation Bill to allot Voted Supply, and with the Pensions (Increase) Bill. In addition, consideration of a Bill to implement recommendations from Mr. Speaker's Conference on candidates' expenses will also be proposed.
On Friday, Mr. Speaker, the House will, as usual, meet at 11 a.m. Prior to Prorogation approval will be sought to a number of procedural motions, to any further emergency regulations, and to 1373 any Lords Amendments which may be received.
Yesterday afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister received a letter from you, Mr. Speaker, with a report from your Conference on Electoral Law relating to candidates' election expenses at parliamentary elections. The report has now been published, and copies are available in the Vote Office.
In view of my right hon. Friend's announcement earlier today, the Government have thought it right to prepare a short Bill to give immediate effect to the Conference recommendations. Later today my right hon. Friend will ask for leave to introduce this Bill, which the House will be invited to proceed to consider through all its stages today. If, as I hope, the Bill can be similarly considered in another place tomorrow, it can receive the Royal Assent in time for it to have effect at the forthcoming election.
I believe that this action will commend itself to right hon. and hon. Members on all sides of the House. Unfortunately it will not be possible for prints of the Bill to be available before the Bill is introduced, but copies of the draft Bill are available in the Vote Office.
In view of the questions asked of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, may I add that premises used for election purposes, including the printing of election addresses, will be exempted from the order on the three-day week, but not from the heating and lighting restrictions, for the duration of the election campaign. For the same period the restriction on television hours will be lifted. The position of periodicals is under consideration in view of the effect of restrictions on political comment.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson
If Mr. Speaker will liberally allow me to ask this question as arising out of the statement, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a few minutes ago we heard the last question from the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton), which was for this side of the House, and I am sure for his own, a very moving occasion. I am sure that we all wish to pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, who has been a servant of the House for 1374 so many years, and to wish him all happiness on his retirement.
On the changed business announced by the Leader of the House, in the circumstances that have now arisen it is clearly right that today's debate should be scrapped, although the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister and I—and probably others—had quite remarkable speeches prepared in the hope of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker. There may be other occasions for using them in the next few days. Speaking for my right hon. and hon. Friends, we shall do all we can to co-operate in getting the business through. We particularly welcome the fact that the Government have moved with all reasonable speed on the message which came from you, Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Speaker's Conference.
On the last announcement made by the right hon. Gentleman, which goes wider than the normal statement, does he realise that it is ludicrous for printing and other establishments—for example, committee rooms—to be allowed to use electric power but for there to be no lighting and no heating? How can this job be done adequately in the dark in a democratic election?
§ Mr. Prior
I will certainly consider the last point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think there is any difficulty about that but, if there is any question of printing not being able to be done at the legitimate time, of course we will consider this again. I have no reason to think that that is not covered.
I know that all my colleagues in the House will wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the generous tribute he paid to my right hon. Friend the Father of the House and also to thank the Father of the House for all the services he has rendered, not least as Chairman of the Committee on Procedure for several years. We all wish him a long and happy retirement.
§ Mr. Grimond
May we as Liberals be associated with the tributes that have been paid to the Father of the House? Will the Leader of the House make a statement about the heating and lighting of schools, halls and committee rooms for election meetings? One can imagine few more unpleasant situations for a country 1375 than being plunged into a General Election at the same time as a major strike and a major economic crisis. Do the Government intend to inform the House of any response they may make to the suggestion on the news tapes that Mr. Gormley might call off the strike for the period of the election?
§ Mr. Prior
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has written to Mr. Gormley asking him to call off the strike whilst the election is in progress.
On the question of lighting and heating halls, I understand that provision is already made for the heating and lighting of halls and schools for election purposes. The general heating and lighting restrictions that apply restrict the temperature to 63 degrees and allow reasonable levels of light. That is all that is implied by my remarks.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
In view of what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said and the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition, would it not be reasonable, so that the election can be conducted in a civilised fashion, for the miners to call off their strike during the election period and for the Government to restore a five-day working week during that period?
§ Mr. Faulds
As his last stint before he loses his job permanently, will the right hon. Gentleman make speedy arrangements to have erected on one of the plinths out there in the Members' Lobby a rubber statue of the imminently ex-Prime Minister bearing the words carved in stone, "The Wrecker"?
§ Mr. Dykes
Hesitating though I do to intervene after that remark, may I ask my right hon. Friend, while he is dealing with the essential business of the House before the Dissolution, whether he agrees that it is vitally urgent for the whole 1376 House to send our good wishes to the Leader of the Opposition, who is the only man in England capable of bringing the country to a successful conclusion?
§ Mr. William Hannan
May I ask the Leader of the House a rather technical question which is nevertheless important in the running of elections? Will the election be fought on the current register, the draft register or the new register, as the new register came out, at least in Scotland, on 15th February?
§ Mr. Hannan
Does the Leader of the House take in the importance of that, as 15th February is only 13 days before the voting day? Has consideration been given to that?
§ Dame Joan Vickers
As we speak so much about equality between men and women, may I pay a tribute to the Mother of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), for the courageous work she has always carried out in the House and for the excellent way in which she has served her constituency?
§ Mr. Prior
It will be a great regret for me in the next Parliament that I shall not be able to answer questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) about the Kielder dam. I am certain that the whole House will join me in extending our best wishes to her and to all the other right hon. and hon. Members who will not be standing again for election.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is becoming a very sentimental occasion. My difficulty is that I am trying to call every hon. Member whom I know will not be coming back to the House, but there are quite a number of others about whom I am not sure whether or not they will in fact be returning.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for that vote of confidence, which I hope my constituents will 1377 reciprocate. I have two points to put to the Leader of the House. First, will he look into the question of urging electoral registration officers who have registers available to make them available as soon as they can, rather than leaving the matter until the official day this month? Will he also look into the question, which will have a great effect on polling day in terms of the emergency regulations, whether we can have the lights full on for the election so that the country will return a decent Government?
§ Dame Irene Ward
So that I shall not disappoint my right hon. Friend, may I ask him to tell me, since he recently stated that the order on the Kielder Dam will be laid next week, when Parliament will not now be sitting, what will happen about that order? In the interests of providing water for my part of the world, I should like to know what is the situation.
§ Mr. English
Will the right hon. Gentleman be a little more explicit about the procedure motions that he proposes to introduce tomorrow? I know that he is aware that some of those motions are non-controversial, whereas others contravene recommendations made by both the Labour and Conservative Parties.
§ Mr. Prior
These procedural motions include a motion to take over Private Members' time—that applies to the commencement of public business before the Orders of the Day are begun; there is a motion to ensure that our delegates to the European Parliament can continue to serve despite their ceasing to be Members at Westminster; then there is a suspension of private Bills to carry them over into the new Parliament, and there may be one or two others.